Despite the unanticipated hurdles that COVID-19 thrown in the way of Rocket Lab’s LA and New Zealand operations, CEO Peter Beck has had an interesting couple of years. Rocket Lab made its public debut this year, announcing plans for a new medium-lift launch vehicle named Neutron and acquiring two firms (on top of its first acquisition from 2020).
Beck and I discussed what is new and unique about Neutron at our TC Sessions: Space 2021 event and it uses the company’s Electron rockets lineage to question some preconceptions about how larger rockets are created. We also discussed his vision for Rocket Lab and what it hopes to do in terms of making it simpler for potential consumers to transport their belongings to space.
Beck discussed everything from Rocket Lab’s innovative strategy to land the reusable first stage of Neutron back on Earth to the fairing’s “Hungry Hippo” design, which prevents it from being destroyed after usage. He also shared his vision for what Rocket Lab aspires to be as it expands its service offerings through acquisitions and in-house product development.
Look at these clips before watching the whole interview below. Regarding the removal of landing legs and the improvement of aerodynamics: It’s all about getting rid of as many parts and complications as feasible […] We had this insight one day while working on these landing legs, and we were just going around in circles with mechanisms, and how we were going to service those mechanisms, and everything else.
After that, we were like, “Let’s just stop and don’t have landing legs.” So let us simply make sure we have a broad enough foundation to withstand any tipping or creeping motions.
So we started with a giant broad base and created a satellite in the payload, as well as the upper stage top and the fairing diamond, and then just drew two lines to connect everything together, making it appear like a traffic cone. That is, in fact, the ideal vehicle: it has no legs and is simply a good, sturdy framework.
Then we started doing some CFD [computational fluid dynamics] on it, as well as some aerodynamics and reentry work, and that traffic cone proved to be very useful because you have this decreasing pressure over the length of the vehicle, which means no shockwaves attach to it, which is always a challenge with reentry.